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Official Review by Chris Green, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
The idea of hockey in Florida should no longer be a foreign one to sports fans. The Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning have been in the league for several decades with their relative successes in the NHL. The ECHL also has several Florida teams, including the Orlando Solar Bears. Perhaps unfairly forgotten about in the Central Florida sports landscape to most, this hidden gem provides a perfect opportunity to see some great hockey in an A-plus facility that won't break your bank.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
The concessions at Solar Bears games are impressive for not being a top-tier professional sports league. A hot dog costs just $4.50 and a giant plate of nachos runs $10. Drinks range from $4.50 for a regular soda to $8 for large sodas. Beer ranges from $7.50 to $8.50, a fair price for any sporting facility. Perhaps the deal of the night are the combos, where one can get a cheeseburger, fries, and regular soda for $14. The quality of the food items is also top notch, with mouth-watering options on display at every turn. Finally, perhaps the coolest thing about the Amway Center is the 'Ronas and 'Ritas bar that is outside, overlooking the downtown skyline while also providing a beautiful gathering space outside for some fresh air, good drinks, and TVs that show the action inside.
The Amway Center is simply beautiful inside. From the perfectly polished floors to the great lighting in the concourses, every inch is always pristine and clean. Additionally, the facility feels brand new, and nothing looks old and withered. When the team scores, the acoustics make it such that even a small crowd seems large.
What can you say about Downtown Orlando? The Amway Center is literally steps from Church Street, the hub of Orlando's rebirth as a foodie and entertainment destination. The City of Orlando has become a sports-thirsty destination over the last few years, with the explosion in popularity of Orlando City and a renewed interest in the Orlando Magic, the City Beautiful loves sports. The immediate area around Amway Center is both suburbs to the west and downtown city center on the east. There are tons of hotels nearby, and since the arena sits next to I-4, getting to other resorts and hotels in the greater Orlando area is not hard to do, either. It can't get much better than this.
The fans who come to Orlando Solar Bear games are passionate, to say the least. They love their hockey team and cheer them on with fervor. A lot of them can be seen sporting t-shirts and jerseys from the team, an impressive feat for any minor league or lower-division professional sports franchise. However, the disappointment here is the lack of fans. Now, bigger games do draw bigger fan totals, such as opening night, themed nights, and playoffs. However, your run-of-the-mill, mid-week game draws about half capacity which can leave the arena looking bare in some places.
How much easier can a stadium be to get to? Driving on I-4, you literally pass within a few yards of the arena itself, so finding the facility is quite arguably an impossibility to miss. If you do get off and somehow get lost, signs all around downtown point the way to the Amway Center. Finally, once you're there, the Geico Garage is your best option for parking. The $15 per game parking fee is very affordable for a family to go to a game, and the best part is the garage connects with the arena through a skywalk across the street into the arena's main concourse from the third parking level.
Tickets are not expensive to Orlando games, and neither is the parking. Add to this the quality and quantity you get for your food when at the game, and you have one of the best values when it comes to taking your family out for some hockey.
The Solar Bears play in the Amway Center, which means that you will see plenty of Orlando Magic history there. From banners hanging in the rafters to the hall of memories in the main concourse, any sports fan can get their Magic fix there, as well.
Additionally, their mascot Shades comes out and visits with the fans throughout the game, making him accessible for photos with the kids.
The players even skate out during introductions through an inflatable polar bear tunnel, which is a neat throwback to hockey and sports intros of old.
Another neat aspect is the various games the team plays with the fans. One intermission game includes purchasing rubber pucks to throw into bins in the middle of the ice from the stands to win prizes.
The team also has a dance crew and frequently invites local school performers to sing or dance in between periods for the fans.
The Orlando Solar Bears are a great choice when looking for a quality addition to your Central Florida visit. Whether you're a hockey fanatic, a sports junkie in general, or wanting to find something to take the family to that won't cost you $100 a head to get into the door, hitting up a Solar Bears game is a great option for you to consider. Between the low cost and the high entertainment value, it is easy to see why the Solar Bears are on their way up from here.
Member Review by StPeteRays on Mar 16, 2013
The Amway Center is the crown jewel of Central Florida's hub city and fifth-largest in the state, Orlando. I heaped on the accolades in the original review for the Orlando Magic in 2011, and my colleague Jim Folsom agreed in a reassessment. I also praised it when I reviewed it during its summer tenant Orlando Predators' season. All in all, this facility can do no wrong.
But what's this about an 18,000-seat arena hosting third-tier hockey? Are they crazy?!
I admit, I went into this trip to "The City Beautiful" with a healthy dose of skepticism. How on Earth could a.) the team possibly draw 18,000 people, and if they couldn't, b.) the facility be arranged to prevent any crowd short of 10,000 seem like the last facility I reviewed that had this very issue, the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena with its hosting of college basketball. So, I hopped into the car and cruised down Interstate 4 from my humble abode in St. Petersburg, all the while wondering what I was getting myself into for this review.
What I encountered when I arrived was nothing short of surprising, both bad and good.
Member Review by sportsroadtrips on Mar 30, 2014
Great crowd and a fun team to watch. The upper deck is closed so there are limited views for those that want to avoid the netting and the glass, but everything else works very well here. Main problem is the ticket police, who check tickets with less than 5 minutes to go in the third period. By then, nobody cares! Good food options, but NBA prices. This is the ECHL, and the price boards are electronic, not too hard to cut a couple bucks off the price. Really had a great time, but the team can make a few minor adjustments and make this one of the best minor hockey league experiences in the country.
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